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I Introduction 
II The flight and reception abroad 
III Becket*a activities while at Pontigny 
IV The attempt to obtain peace and the final reconciliation 


V The reurn and murder of Beckot 
VI Conclusion 
VII List of authorities 






Without question the controversy between Henry II and Thomas 
Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of the most rancorous 
and famous in history. The points at issue, also, were among the 
most important and far-reaching whic^ ever brought contention into 
Christendom. The direct results of the struggle, however, are 
unimportant as compared with the unceasing disquiet it produced 
and the wide spread attention it drew to itself. 

If we should seek the causes of this quarrel we should find 
that they are several. The fact that we have two of the very 
strongest personalities, flourishing in the same generation and 
in the same kingdom, gives some explanation o-^ the nature and 
cause of the struggle. Again, the time in which these actors who 
played the principal parts lived, offers conditions which account 
in part for the arising of this condition, but not more, perhaps 
not so much as the times immediately preceding. 

If we should investigate the conditions in which Henry II 
found the realm of England, we should find it one of chaos, 
disorganization, anarchy, and the people exhausted from non- 
government and misrule. It was Henry's task to assert the powers 
of government and the supremacy of the law. In this, Thomas 
Becket, who was made his chancellor, had a large part. But Henry, 
seeking control of the Church of England, secured for his right 
hand man and leading diplomat in civil affairs, the Archbishopric 
of Canterbury. Instead of aiding ^is King in this, however, 


Becket resigned the Chancellorship, turned Churchman of the most 
extreme type and from then on opposed Henry at every point. 

In this opposition not only did he bring to play his diplo- 
matic experience, the prestige of his high office, but in a 
greater measure than anything else, he exercised an unrelenting 
zeal, an indefatigable energy and unceasing and widespread 
activity which drew into the arena of the struggle nearly all the 
leading prelates and potentates of Europe. Thus this contest 
between these two obstinate personalities became an international 
and world wide affair. 

The immediate cause of the conflict and the rock which wrecked 
their aforetime peace and harnony were the Constitutions of 
Clarendon. These wore an agreement to be sworn to by the officers 
of the Church, which among other things compelled the clergy to 
receive justice in the courts of the realm, to obtain fron the 
King an order to leave the kingdom or to make an appeal to Rome, 
and in fact to surrender "the rights of the order." 

Becket, having insincerely agreed to these wit^-out any inten- 
tion of adhering to them, or else having rashly agreed to them 

and afterwards repented, and decided not to stand to it, proceeded 


to act in direct violation feB them. For this he was summoned 
before a council of the estates of the realm and charged with 
various misdeeds and declared guilty. But Becket forbade the 
sentence to be prounounced, overawed the council so that the 
barons retired and then arose and walked out unsentenced. All 
his activities in open and avowed opposition to Henry were carried 
on and directed, from this time on, from points and places 
outside of England. 



At last the quarrel that had been brewing between King Henry 
II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, came to an 
open breach at the Council of Northampton, and Becket eluded 
sentence of condemnation only by withdrawing under cover of night. 
He had this same day sent a request to the King for a safe conduct 
abroad. The King replied that he would send an answer the next 
day. But Becket did not intend to wait for the answer. He left 
Northampton in the middle of the night, in torrents of rain, 
accompanied by three attendants, two monks and a servant. He first 
made his way to Lincoln where he rested a day. From here dis- 
guising himself as a monk, and assuming the name, Brother Christ- 
ian,^ he set out for the sea. From fear of being recognized he 
was compelled to travel by night and to conceal himself among 
friends during the day. At last he reached the port of Sandwich 
from whence, setting sail early in the morning, he made his 
crossing and landed the same day, November 2, in Flanders near 

Without delay he proceeded towards France, still traveling 
secretly on account of Philip, Coimt of Flanders, who was closely 
leagued with the King, making his way to Clair-Marais near St. 


Omer, thence to St. Bertin*s Abbey where he was heartily welcomed. 

— o- 

Materials, III, 70 (Stephens), 326 Bosham; Diceto, I, 
314; Wendover, I, 33; Hoveden, I, 229; Materials, II, 
399, (Grim); Ramsay, "Angevin Empire," 65. He is called 
"Brother Christian Dearraan." 

2 Materials, III, 70 (Stephens) 328-330 (Bosham); Thomas 
Saga, I, 257; 


Here also he was met by Herbert of Bosham who was waiting for him 
with money and valuables brought from Canterbury. 

The King could not but realize how formidable an ally the 
exile would be to his enemies so his first move was an attempt to 
head off the flight of the Archbishop. Having failed in this 
he sent messengers to preoccupy the minds of the Count of Flanders, 
the King of France and the pope against his fugitive subject.^ 
For he reasoned that Becket would act, and be received, as an 
independent potentate. Henry *s envoys appeared before the French 
King and presented him a letter urging him not to admit within 
his domains Thomas, the late Archbishop of Canterbury. To which 
the King of France replied, "Late Archbishop: and who had presumed 
to depose him? I am a king like my brother of England; I should 
not dare to depose the meanest of my clergy."^ From which it 
may be inferred that Louis was not willing to withold hospitality 
from so distinguished a potentate as the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

After this interview with Louis, the King's envoys went to the 

Pope, Alexander III, at Sens, who was in exile, also, on account 

of the schism in the Church.'' As to how these envoys should be 

received was a difficult question for the Pontiff. To Henry he 

was practically indebted for his elevation to office, since Henry 


and the King of France had recognized him as the rightful successor 
of St. Peter. So, now, while he was afraid of offending the rich 

— o — 

^ Materials, "Ibid", 70 (Stephens), 332-335 (Bosham). 
^ Materials, III, 332 (Bosham). 
3«ibid," 70 (Stephens). 

Ramsay, "Angev^i-n Empire," 67, ^ays "Louis had shown a 
disposition to treat the claims as an open question." 


yoimg King who had been his staunch supporter, yet he was not 

willing to desert Becket, the representative of the Church and 

the champion of Church rights. Therefore, when the embassy came 

to him asking that Becket be sent bac'c to England with a legate 

or legates, empowered to decide all questions between the King 

and the Archbishop, he parleyed for a time. He requested the 

envoys to wait for the coming of Becket, as he could take no 

action against him in his absence. They, ho.'/ever, were unwilling 

to wait and were obliged to report, on their return to Henry, an 

unsuccessful mission both to Louis and to the Pope.-^ 

While Becket was at St. Bert ins, Richard de Lucy, the King's 

Justiciar, passed through the town. He tried to persuade the 


Archbishop to return to England but to no avail. Becket was 
either suspicious of his friendly overtures or had resolved never 
again to place himself in the power of the King. As soon as"his 
coming was made known to his clerks, of whom he had many in Gaul, 
they hastened to join themselves to him. Even the Archbishop of 
Rheims himself, Henry, the brother of the King of France, the 
bishops, abbots, archdeacons, and deans of the churches recognized 
with due veneration so great an exile and they offered to him and 
to his bountifully, and compelled him to receive what was necessary 
for his existence."'^ Thus the public opinion of Gaul seemed to 
be in favor of the Archbishop. In fact, so strongly was it so 
that the bishops, who were in the embassy sent out by King Henry, 

— o— 


Materials, III, 73 (Stephens), 335-337 (Bosham); 
Thomas Saga, I, 27, seq. 

^ Materials, "Ibid" 71 (Stephens). 

3 Ibid, 72. 


had to travel under assumed names, saying they were of the house 
of the Count of Arundell,^ 

The Pope, upon hearing of the arrival of Becket in Flanders, 
"Condoling the exiled Archbishop with due compassion and con- 
gratulating him for fighting for the liberties of the Church, 
wrote to him that he should withdraw apart for the purpose of 
resting and taking fresh breath until he should call for him*"^ 
Becket, then, was not only supplied with everything that was 
necessary for his temporal needs but was shown every veneration 
due his high office. 

As soon as Becket learned of the embassy sent out by the King 


of England, Be sent Herbert Bosham and other clerks to spy upon 
them. They went to the King of France, to whom they related 
Thomas* troubles and were well received. The King also granted 
their request to harbor Becket within his borders. They next 
proceeded to Sens where they arrived a day later than the King's 

A dissension arose among the Cardinals and some of them would 
not receive Becket *s messengers with the customary kiss. They, 
however, related Becket *s troubles, which softened the Pope's 
heart towards him.* Becket *b messengers having been present and 
overheard both the conference of Henry's envoys with the King of 
France and with the Pope, were thus enabled to return to him with 

^ Materials, III, 72 (Stephens). 

2 Materials, III, 72 (Stephens). 

^"IbidJ 333, (Bosham) ; Thomas Saga, I, 270. 

'^"Ibidy 335 (Bosham); Thomas Saga, 272. 


good news. 

Becket, being encouraged by the repo^'ts of his messengers, 
immediately set out for Sens. On this journey he was accompanied 
as far as Soissons by the Archbishop of Terouanne and the Abbot 
of St. Bert ins. As he entered Prance, he was met upon approaching 
Soissons, by the King's brother, the Archbishop of Rheims and 
a long train of bishops, abbots, and other churchmen. Here also 
he had an interview with the King of France, who showed him great 
honor and favor. Upon the Archbishop's arrival at Sens, the 
cardinals were cool in their reception of him. The Pope, however, 
at once granted the honor of a public audience; he placed Becket 
in a position of honor at his right hand and allowed him to tell 
t^e story of his troubles. Becket, after a skillful account of 
his hard usage, spread out the parchment containing the Constitu- 
tions of Clarendon. Upon examination the Pope pronounced his 
unqualified condemnation on ton of these. He rebuked Becket for 
his weakness in swearing to these articles, "with the severity of 
a father and the tenderness of a mother." The next day, Becket 
pursuing his advantage, in order to get rid of certain objections 
which had beon raised concerninn; his election, tendered his 
resignation of the Archiepiscopato to the Pope. 

^ Materials, III, 338, (Bosham) ; VI, 63, (Am'^on I). 

^ "Ibid," III, 74 (Stephens), 342, (Bosham); VI, 63. 

Materials, I, 46 (Wm.Cant.); Thomas Saga, I, 307-309; 
Morgate, "EnglarKi under Angevin: Kings," II, 55, says 
that Becket "once in an agony of selfreproach and self 
distrust, laid his archbiscopal ring at the Pope's 
feet and prayed to be released from the burden of an 
office for which he felt himself unworthy and unfit." 


Some of the cardinals entreated the Pontiff to put an end at 

once to this dangerous quarrel by accepting the surrender. But 

the Pope and William of Pavia opposed this and restored to him the 

archiepiscopal ring, thus ratifying his primacy.^ After which, 

Backet received the apostolic blessing and, being assured of the 


Pope's protection, withdrew to the abbey of Pontigny, 

As we have seen, Becket*s emissaries had been present during 
the interview of Henry's ambassadors with the Pope. Therefore, 
Henry no doubt received speedy intelligence of these proceedings 
with Becket. The Kinr? received his embassy at Marlborough 
and their announcement of the proceedings at the Papal court 
filled him with wrath. He issued immediate orders to seize the 
revenues of the Archbishop and the estates of all the clergy who 
had followed him to France. He forbade prayers for the archbishop 
The payment of Peter's Pence to the Pope was suspended. But Henry' 
anger was not yet satis! ied. He passed a sentence of banishment 
upon all the Primate's kinsmen, dependents and friends and gave 
orders for them to be driven from the kingdom. Hundreds of 
persons, of both sexes and of every age, even infants were in- 
cluded in this relentless edict. Every adult was forced to take 
an oath to proceed at once to Becket in order that his misery 
might be the greater by seeing the miseries he had brought upon 
his kinsfolk and friends. 

^ Materials, I, 46; Thomas Saga, I, 311. 

Materials, III, 76 (Stephens), 357 (Bosham). 

^ Materials, III, 75 (Stephens), 360 (Boshara); VI, 
(Annon I); Thomas Saga, I, 321 seq. 


This order was inhumanly executed by that fierce soldier, 
the bitterest of Becket*s personal enemies, Ranulf de Brocl^. 
The exiles were received kindly by the King of France, archbishops, 
bishops and abbots, and many of the monasteries and convents of 
Flanders and France were thrown open to them with generous hospi- 
tality."^ Thus there was sent throughout both these countries a 
multitude of people appealing to the pity and the indignation of 
all, and so deepened the hatred towards Henry. 


Upon leaving the Pope, Becket retired to the Cistercian 
abbey of Pontigny. Here he adopted the gray garb of the monks 
and undertook to lead a very humble life, in whinh he attempted to 
eat no food but according to the rule of the order, and gave 
himself up to study and devotion.^ Thus did he try by strict 
monastic discipline to compensate for the deficiency which had 
been alleged on his election to the archbishopric. However, his 
frail body soon compelled him to give up his strict mode of living, 
but only after the most urgent remonstrances of his friends. 

The King, becoming impatient about the attitude of the Pope 
toward the trouble with Becket, sent Richard of Ilchester and 
John of Oxford to the Emperor, Frederick, offering to recognize 
the new antipope.^ These were kindly received and it is thought 

— o— 

^ Materials, III, 76 (Stephens). 

^ Materials, III, 77 (Stephens); 358 (Bosham) 

3 Ibid, 377-379 (Bosham). 

^ Materials, I, 52-53 (Wm.Cant), Thomas Saga, 1, 331. 





an agreement was reached. But as the Pope had been joyfully 
received in Rome and the Emperor was too busy with his wars north 
of the Alps to dislodge him, the effect of the mission was almost, 
if not entirely, lost. 

In the meantime Becket was spending his second year in exile. 
Three times had he sent letters urging the King to submit to his 
censure. When he found that the King*s heart wan still hardened 
and that he had been communicating with schismatics, his heart 
burned with zeal, not, as we are assured by his followers, for 
vengeance but for justice. This act of the King in sending a 
secret messenger to the Emperor aroused him. 

It was now in the second year of Becket 's exile at Pontigny. 
The Pope had been favorably received in Rome during the preceding 
November. Early in Lent Henry had crossed over from England to 
Normandy,"^ and as Easter drew nigh, the end of the time, during 
which Becket, under the Pope*s directions, was to take no action, 
also came around. After Easter day, April 24, 1166, Becket would 
be free to act. Moreover, in anticipation of this time, he had 
received froii! Alexander authority to take ecclesiastical action. 
In his letter to the Archbishop, the Pope referred to the 
sentence which had confiscated Becket *s possessions, pronounced 
it '*null and void; and we hereby do by our apostolic authority 
reverse it, and declare that it shall have no force henceforward." 

The letter would naturally have the effect of encouraging 
Becket and ^of strengthening his purpose to demand satisfaction of 

--0 — 


Diceto, I, 318. , 
^ Wendover, I, 39. 


all his properties and revenues as a condition of peace and settle- 
ment with Henry. As to what condition the Archbishop was author- 
ized to take we raay refer to the following taken from the same 
letter, *'For the rest, if those who have done violence or injury 
to you or your clerks in the possessions or goods of your Church, 
when legally admonished, shall fail to restore what they have 
taken, or to rrake meet satisfaction for the same, you will not 
hesitate at the first convenient opportunity to execute ecclesi- 
astical jurisdiction, and whatever you shall in reason think 
proper to do in that behalf, we will hold good and valid. But 
over the person of the King we give you no specific authority, 
etc."-'- Thus empowered and interpreting this authority in his 
own way, the Archbishop prepared for immediate action. He did 
not delay action long enough to receive a later communication, 
granted on Easter Day, which gave him a Legati^ Commission over 
all of England except the Province of York. Since Alexander III 
was now established in Rome, of course considerable time was 
required for the transmission of his communications. 

Just what action Becket would have taken had he been informed 
of this commission, we do not try to surmise, but as it was he 
sent his ultimatum to Kinr Henry, who was at that time holding 
councils at Chinon. This was contained in three successive 
letters, and seemed to carry an air of confidence, of boldness, 
and even of threat. Some intimation of his feelings may be given 
by the following lines from his letter to the King at that time. 
"Hear then, if you please, my lord, the counsel of your liege, 

— o— 

^ Wendover, I, 39. 









the admonition of your bishop, the cast igat ion of your father. 
Have no coramunication nor familiarity for the future with 
schismatics, nor enter into any contract with them. Remember the 
profession which you made, and placed in writing; on the altar at 
Westminster, to preserve the Churches liberties, when you were 
consecrated and anointed to be King. Restore the Church of 
Canterbury, from which you received your promotion and consecration 
to the state in which it was in the days of your predecessors. 
But if you will not do these things, know for a certainty that 
you shall feel the severity of God*s vengeance."'^ 

This letter seemed to threaten interdict to all, even to 
Henry *s continental possessions, and he consulted with his 
prelates. They decided on a counter-appeal to the Pope which 
would block action on the part of Becket. But the Archbishop of 
Rouen and the bishops sent to serve notice on Becket of this 
appeal could not find him for, warned of their coming, he had 
departed, and consequently their mission was unsuccessful. So at 
the feast of Ascension, at Vezelay "in the presence of all the 
people, who had assembled, to the festival, ascending the pulpit, 
he excommunicated, with the utmost solemnity all the hereditary 
customs of England, their observers, their defenders and 
abettors generally,"^ and absolved all the bishops from the oaths 
which they had taken to maintain them. This sweeping anathema 
involved the whole kingdom. But he proceeded to excommunicate 
by name the most active and powerful adversaries; John of Oxford 

— o — 

^ Wendover, I, 48. 
^ Wendover, I, 40. 


and Richard of Ilcheeter for their dealings with the Bchismatics; 
the Jutficiary, Richard de Lucy and John of Baliol as the drafters 
of the Constitutions of Clarendon, and others for the usurpation 
of the estates of Canterbury.-^ 

This bold act of the Archbishop, although long expected by 
many of the English clergy^ caused great consternation. The 
bishop^ were prompt in their action. As they had "been excom- 
municated in their absence, without being either summoned or found 

guilty,** they "appealed to the Pope, notifying the same to the 


Archbishop, and did not abstain from entering the church." Thus 

the bishops injtrder not to incur the anger of the King greatly 

blocked the ecclesiastical censure. 

When King Henry heard of the act of excommunication given by 

Becket, it drove him almost to m.adness. He cri^^sd "the Archbishop 


has resolved to ruin me both soul and body" and wept for rage. 
He at once issued a proclamation to guard the ports of England 
against the interdict and to compel all adults to take an oath 
not to respect any ecclesiastical censure from the Archbishop. 
His next act was to drive Becket from Pontigny,'*^ where he had 
spent two years in comparative seclusion. "For," as one writer'^ 

— o— 

^ Same, Diceto, I, 318; Materials V, 383 seq. 

^ Wendover, I, 40. 

Ramsay, "Angevin Empire , " 84. "He was generally felt 
to have overshot the mark; and in fact his anathemas 
fell a dead letter." 


^ Materials, H, 381, seq. 

^ Materials, III, 84 (Stephens), 378 (Bosham) 

^ Wendover, I, 41. 
Thomas Saga, I, 369. 





puts it, "it seemeth to the King an over measure of bliss for him 

to sojourn any longer at Pontigny*" As soon as Becket was 

informed of the danger in which his stay at Pontigny was likely 

to involve the Cistercian order, he offered to withdraw.^ Louis, 

King of Prance, who had been watching Henry *s attitude toward 

Becket, hastened to Pontigny and offered him an asylum within his 

borders, also giving him" presents, wines and servants as many as 

he wished to receive."^ The King's offer of an asylum was accepted 

He chose Sens, and here, at the abbey of St. Colomban, he was 

maintained by the French King for the next four years .'-^ Thus 

Henry drove his exiled Primate from his own possessions into those 

of his rival, the King of France, much to his own chagrin* Besides 

being honored by the King, Becket was received with honor and 


given presents by the Archbishop of Sens and the Clergy. 

As has been noticed above, no sooner had the eentence of 
excommunication been pronounced against the bishops and riobles of 
England than they appealed to the Pope. The King of France also 
wrote to the Pope but he upheld the action of Becket. Thus was 
the Pontiff placed between the two fires. But finally, however, 
with the hope of obtaining peace between the contending parties 
he absolved those whom the Archbishop had excommunicated.^ No 

- Materials, III, 398 (Bosham). 
2 "Ibid," 84 (Stephens). 

^ "Ibid," III, 403 (Bosham); Wendover, I, 41; 
Diceto, I, 329. 

4 / 

Materials, III, 85 (Stephens; Thomas Saga, I, 375. 

^ Thomas Saga, I, 419; Materials, VI, 85. 


doubt he was aided in this decision through fear of an invasion 
from Frederick Barbarossa. 

The suffragan bishops of Canterbury, fearing that Thomas 
would repeat his sentence against them, wrote hin a letter reminding 
him of the kindnesses and favors of the King toward him, and 
telling him that they would appoal to the Pope against any sentence 
he should make against them. Becket recognized the Bishop of 
London as the author of the letter, and in his reply commanded 
him to restore whatever property of his church or clerks he had 
received by the command of the King*-^ The Bishop of London at 
once requested the King to find another steward for the property 
of Canterbury which he had in his possession.'^ This was just what 
Becket had desired. He greatly resented the action of the Pope 
in setting aside his sentences. The Pope, however, urged him to 
make all possible concessions at this perilous time of the Church. 

The reason for the Pope's clemency at this time was, no 

doubt, that Henry II had, at the instigation of his bishops, made 

an appeal to Rome. Fearing that Becket would pronounce the 

sentence of excommunication against his own person, and lay an 

interdict upon his kingdom, he had in behalf of his own person 

and his kingdom, requested the rontiff to send envoys or legates 

"a latere " to England to enquire into the dispute which existed 

between him and the Archbishop.^ Thus we see Henry, as soon as 

Becket, who is within the kingdom of Lo^iis, begins to threaten 

him and his kingdom, appealing to Rome. And an appeal to Rome 

was one of the things over which the trouble bad started. 

— o— 

^ Wendover, I, 43-46. 

2 Materials, III, 82 (Stephens). 
^ Hoveden, I, 276. 


Perhaps if it had not been for the constant activity of 
Becket, Henry would have obtained a coramiseion of legates "a 
latere" with full powers. As it was William of Pavia and Cardinal 
Otho were sent as mediators subject to the Pope.^ It will be 
remembered that William of Pavia was the one who had urged the 
Pope at Sens not to accept the Archbishop* s resignation. It is 
therefore surprising that Thomas would have believed these legatee 
were inclined to favor the King. They summoned the King and the 
Archbishop to meet them near Gisors. But the demands of Becket 
that y^e and all his clerks s'l-'ould be replaced in possession of all 
that had been taken from them, the legates were neither able nor 
willing to grant. ^ The Archbishop was again restrained from utter 
ing further sentences while negotiations were in progress^ a- 
suspension which Becket received only with mingled grief and 
indignation. Thus the messengers of peace returned to the Pope 
having gained only many rich prenents from Henry. When this 
mission had ended in failure the Pope wrote to the King of France 
urging him to endeavor to bring about peace. Accordingly the 
next year there was a series of interviews in behalf of peace 
between the two Kings to v/hich Becket was always summoned; but all 
these conferences were as fruitless as the former had been. 

The Pope, becoming impatient at these fruitless atteinpts at 
reconciliation, wrote a letter to King Henry, telling him that he 
had borne long with his persecution of Thomas and would no longer 

Materials, III, 409 (Bosham) ; Thomas Saga, I, 411 seq. 
2 Materials, III, Ibid; VI, 85 seq. 
^ Thomas Saga, I, 425 seq. 


restrain the Arf^hbishop from ecclesiastical censure. Therefore, 
another council in behalf of peace was held, in the plains near 
Montmarail, by legates sent out from the Pope. Here a vast asseinbly 
was convened on the day of Epiphany in the presence of the two 
Kings, and the baronn of each realm, to witness the reconciliation. 
The mediators of the treaty insisted dn Thomas' throwing himself on 
the King's mercy and without reservation. With great reluctance 
Becket appeared at last to yield; his counsellors acquiesced in 
silence. With this distinct understanding the Kings of France and 
England met at Montmirail, and everything seemed prepared for the 
settlement of the long and obstinate quarrel. As Becket advanced 
into the presence of the King he threw himself at his feet. Henry 
raised him instantly from the ground. Becket, then, began to 
solicit the clemency of the King. He declared his readiness to 
submit his whole cause to the judgment of the King and the assembled 
prelates and nobles. But after a pause he added, "Saving the 
Honor of God."^ 

At this unexpected turn of events, even the most ardent admirers 
of Becket, stcod aghast. Henry reproached the Archbishop with 
arrogance, obstinancy and ingratitude. He offered to treat him 
as his predecessors had been dealt with. All present recognized 
the fairnesG of the terms and urged him to accent, but he firmly 
refused. Even the King of France seemed shocked at the conduct 
of Becket. One of his earls advised that Becket be driven out of 

--0 — 

^ Diceto, I, 332. 

^ Materials, III, 98 (Stephens); 418 seq . (Bosham); 
Diceto, I, 335. Ramsay, "Angevin Empire , " 113, "The 
formula 'saving the honor of God' had acquired a 
technical force, equivalent to'the liberty of the 
Church. '" 


France. The prelates and nobles, having labored in vain to break 
the spirit of the Primate, retired in sullen dissatisfaction.^ 

Henry retired from the council followed by the legates. The 
King of France went to Montmllrail whither he was followed by 
Becket. King Louis managed for a time to keep himself estranged 
from the Archbishop, until Becket *b friends began to despair of 
the future.^ But before many days, some acts of barbarous cruelty 
committed by Henry destroyed the peace between the two nations 
and they were again in hostility. The King of France and his 
prelates feeling how nearly they had lost their powerful ally, 
began to admire what they called Becket 's magnanimity as loudly as 
they had censured his obstinacy. The King even wrote to the Pope 
in behalf of the Archbishop.^ 

The King of England, hearing the Archbishop and Louis had 
come to terms, wrote to the French King strongly urging hirr to 
abandon Becket. To whic>^ he answered that "the oftener he v/as 
called upon to abandon the Archbishop so much the stronger he 
would defend him." The Pope also about this time sent messengers 
to remonstrate with King Henry about his attitude towards the 
Primate.^ Their mission apparently accomplished nothing, and they 
returned to the Pope. 

The Archbishop being once more restored to the friendship of 
the French Kinr and prelates, was encourag'^d to apply his spiritual 

^ Materials, HI, 487seq . (Bosv^am) j Thomas Saga, 1,431-443. 
^ "Ibid," III, 437 seq.; Saga, 435-437. 
^ Materials, III, 439 (Bosham). 

4 Materials, III, 440 seq. (Bosham); Saga, I, 441-445. 


weapons. He once again excornintmicated Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of 
London, Richard de T-ucy, and some other counselors of the King. 
An emissary of Becket sent to carry the news, had the boldness to 
enter St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and proclaim Gilbert, Bishop 
of London, excommunicated.^ 

Henry was not without fear at this last desperate blow. He 
had not a single chaplain who had not been excommunicated or was 
not under some ban for holding intercourse with persons under 
excommunication. Therefore Foliot immediately summoned his Clergy 
explained the illegality and in;1ustice of the excommunication, 
and renewed his appeal. On his way to Rome, Gilbert stopped in 
Normandy to explain the cause of his appeal and to consult with 
the King.^ They decided to send a letter threatening to withdraw 
their obedience from the Pope unless he used his influence in 
quelling the pride of the Archbishop, and requesting that the 
Archbishop of York be made" legate . " The Pope, although he was no 
longer dependent upon Henry, granted this request. But at the 
same time he wrote Becket that the Archbishop of York should never 
become legate without his consent. He also determined to appoint 
a new legatine commission, no longer one of avowed partisans of 
Henry, but disposed to high ecclesiastical views. Therefore 
Thomas was restrained from issuing any edict against the King or 
his kingdom until after lent, unless the King should refuse to 
restore the property of Canterbury.^ 

--o — 

^ Materials, III, 89 (Stephens). 
^ Diceto, I, 333. ■ 

^ Wendover, I, 59-60; Paris, I, S48-350. 


The peace negotiations that were thus inaugiirated were carried 
on under the direction of two legates, Vivian and Gratian, The 
first interview accompli a bed little^ Gratian apparently thinking 
that nothing would come of their mission returned to Rome.-'- 
Vivian started to England to absolve tbose under sentence but 
before he had gone far the King of France endeavored once more to 
bring about peace, and he was recalled. The council for the 
establishment of peace was held at Montmartre. They discussed 
freely the confiscation of the property of Canterbury, and Henry 
declared it his good will that Becket return to England in peace. 
Everything appeared as though the long looked for peace was about 
to be accomplished, until Becket demanded the kins of peace without 
which he considered there would be no peace* Henry offered various 
excuses, lateness of the hour, the long ride before him and 
finally refusing, rode away with angry reproaches to Becket. The 
Archbishop, it seems, expected to be able to dictate his own 
terms of peace. Henry was just as determined to have his way. 
The Pope was not yet disposed to depart fror^ the 
policy. So he wrote to the archbishop of Rouen and the Bishop 
of Nevers to make one more effort for the termination of the 
difficulties. He also authorized them to threaten the King with 
the interdict unless he made peace with Becket.^ 

^ Materials, III, 444 (Bosham) 

^ Thomas Saga, I, 447. 

3 Materials, III, 97 (Stephens); 446-450 (Bosham); 

Thomas Saga, I, 447-449; Diceto, 1, 335-337. 

^ Thomas Saga, I, 457. 


1'he King was urged, to abolish in due time the impious and 
obnoxious customs. And these bishops were intrusted with authority 
to absolve the refractory Bishop of London The absolving of 
Gilbert, by the Archbishop of Rouen, was an astounding blow to 
Becket. He tried to call in question the authority of the Arch- 
bishop to pronounce it without the presence of his colleague. 
The Archbishop disregarded his remonstrances, and thus Becket *s 
sentence was annulled by the authority of the Pope. 

Becket was to receive yet another blow. The King had learned 
by the experience of hie mother how insecure the Englis>i crown 
was, and so had determ.ined to have hie eldest son crowned in his 
presence. When the rumor reached the ears of the Pope he protested 
Becket threatened them with the interdict but all to no avail. 
The Archbishop of York won over the English Clergy, who were to 
assist him, by displaying a papal brief, authorizing him to 
perform the ceremony.^ This Henry had wrung frcr' the Pope three 
years before and had held in reserve to abide his own time. 
However, the Pope sent another letter to England which forbade the 
bishops to crown the Prince. This letter was finally forced upon 
the Archbishop of York the evening before the coronation. Never- 
theless the ceremony took place the next day, July 24, 1170, at 
Westminster in the presence of the King and his nobles. In this 
ceremony the Archbishop of York was assisted by the Bishops of 
London, Rochester, Durham, and Salisbury.^ 

^ Diceto, I, 338. 

2 Materials, VI, 206-207, Ramsay, "Angevin: Empire , 116, 
note 7; 

^ Materials, III, 458 (Bosham); Hoveden, II, 4-5; 
Wendover, I, 78 j Thomas Saga, I, 452. 


When the news of the coronation of the younr Prince reached the 
continent, Becket was incensed, and the Pope seemed displeased. 
The legates were urged to action, requested to threaten the Kirg 
with the interdict and to censure the bishops concerned in the 
coronation. Becket complained to the Pope, who replied that he 
had excommunicated the Bishops of London and Salisbury.-^ 

Henry was obliged immediately after the croY/ning of his son, 

to rush back to Normandy to make peace with the King of France 

who was aroused because his daughter had not been crowned along 

with her husband, the Prince Henry. About this time some one 

suggested to Henry that the Archbishop would be lern dangerous 


within his kingdom than without. The hint appealed to Henry at 
once. The two Kings had held a conference at Fretteville between 
Chartres and Tours. The Archbishop of Sens prevailed upon Becket 
to be in the neighborhood. Some days after the King seemed to 
have been persuaded by the legates to hold a conference with 
Becket. As soon as they drew near, the King rode up to the Primate 
and saluted him. with frank coiTtesy. After a short conversation 
in the presence of the bishops, the King withdrew apart with 

The interview was long enough to try the patience of the 
spectators, and so familiar that it might seer, there had never been 


^ Materials, III, 462-3 (Bosham); Thomas Saga, 1, 445-59. 
2 Materials, III, 106-107 (Stephens). 
^ Wendover, I, 79. 

^ Diceto, I, 338-9; Wendover, I, 79. 


any discord between them. Becket eeered to lay the King's faults 
entirely upon his evil counselors. He dwelt long upon the 
usurpation of the rights of the Primacy, in the coronation of the 
King's son. Henry held that the state of the kingdom had made it 
a necessity; but as his son's queen, the daughter of the King of 
France, was also to be crov/ned, he promised Becket that this 
ceremony should be performed by him and his son should again 
receive the crown from the hands of the Primate. At the close of 
the interview Becket sprung from his horse and threw himself at 
the feet of the King. The King leaped down, and holding his 
stirrup compelled the Archbishop to mount his horse again. In 
the most friendly terms he expressed his full reconciliation not 
only to the Archbishop but to the wondering and delighted multi- 

That he was sincere and had made peace in good faith we may 

infer from the following letter written to his son, the young 

King Henry. "This is to inform, you that Thomas, the Archbishop 

of Canterbury, has made peace with me to ray satisfaction. I 

therefore command that he and all his adherents shall be unmolested 

and that you cause all their goods to be restored to him as well 

as to all his clerks and others who left England on his behalf, 

as they held them three months before the Arcbbishop left England. 

You will also summon before you some of the oldest and best 

Knights of the honor of Saltwood and ascertain by their oaths 

what property is held there of the See of Canterbury and whatsoever 

is found to be so shall be held by that tenure."^ Peace, then, 

— o-» 

Materials, III, 107-11 (Stephens ) ,446 (Bosham) ; 
Diceto, I, 338-339. 


Materials, III, 112(Stephens) ; Wendover, I, 79. 


was made without any act of submission on the part of either of 

the contestants."^ They had carefully avoided any mention of the 

hated constitutions. Henry had not recalled them. They were still 

the law. Becket had not sworn to observe them and doubtless had 

no intention of so doing. 

The King desired that Becket should return at once to England 

with him. The Archbishop did not , however, care to accept the 

King's offer, perhaps desiring to test further the King's peace. 


He gave as an excuse farewell visits to his friends in France. 

This delay was used to obtain letters of excoramiinicat ion from 

the Pope. For Becket had no intention of submitting peacefully 

or of overlooking the offence in the coronation of the young 

King. During this time that the Archbishop was preparing to 

return to England, the King and Thomas held another conference at 

Tours. Here the Archbishop again attempted to obtain the kiss of 

peace, which he considered essential to the reconciliation. And 


again the king as skillfully avoided it. The circumstances were 
these. It was supposed that Becket was determined to secure the 
kiss of peace, if even by ruse, and for that purpose appeared at 
the King's early Mass where he would have the opportunity of 
offering the Kinp- a kiss that could not be evaded. But the King 
was forewarned and ordered the celebration of Maee for the dead 
in which the kiss would not be given. 

Norgate, II, 73, "Peace was made on terms which practic- 
ally amounted to a complete mutual amnesty and a return 
to the state of affairs which existed before the quarrel 

^ Thomas Saga, I, 463, 

^ Materials, Hi, 469 (Bosham); Saga, I, 469. 


John of Oxford was commissioned by the King to accompany the 
Archbishop and reinstate him in his See."^ The news of Becket's 
return preceded him, and was received with great joy among the 
poor people to whom he had always been a friend. He also sent 

letters to the senior canon of Canterbury, to absolve all those 


who had communed with the schismatics or excommimicates . This 
was done, no doubt, in order to assure him a warm reception to his 
See. But the fear that he should cone prepared to utter sentences 
against his foes had caused all the ports of England to be guarded. 

Becket being warned of this, sent these letters fron the Pope, 
for which he had been waiting and which he had now received, on 
before him.*^ A strange coincidence is that the very men upon 
whom these letters brought sentence, Roger of York, Gilbert Foliot, 
and Joscelin of Sarum were at Dover in charge of the efforts to 
prevent the landing of the papal letters. It was probably because 
the bearer of these letters was a lad or acolyte that he escaped 

These letters, having evaded the guards of the English ports, 
were in due time published, resulting in the suspension of the 
bishops who had taken part in the coronation of the King*s son.^ 

— o — 

Materials, III, 116 (Stephens). 


Thomas Saga, I, 483. 
^ Materials, III, 472 (Bosham) . 

Materials, I, 87, 89, 95 (Wm. Cant), III, 471-472. 
Ibid, 177 (Stephens); Thomas Saga, I, 483. 


A great commotion was caused by this act of the Archbishop, The 
opposition to his return which was headed by Ranulf de Brock, 
was greatly increased. Brock with a body of knights met the 
Primate when he landed, apparently Thursday, December l,"^in 
England and urged him to absolve the bishops. But Becket refused 
to listen to them until he should come to Canterbury. T>>e knights 
were only restrained from violence by being warned by John of 
Oxford, who vouched for Becket 's authority for landing.^ 

Although greatly angered at the ill success of their inter- 
view t' ey were forced to postpone further action until the 
Primate was reinstated in Canterbury. The Archbishop's entrance 
to Canterbury^ was one of great state and worthy of his office. 
However, those who did homage were in the main lower clergy and 
poor people as all those who should have been present were dis- 
qualified on account of the sentence of excommunication. 

No sooner had he been reinstated in his See than his enemies 
returned to him, this time bearing letters from the bishops 
praying for absolution. The request for absolution being again 
denied by Becket, Roger, Archbishop of York, persuaded the other 
bishops to resist the Primate and appeal to the power of the 

In the meantime Becket sent envoys to the young King to 
assure him that his action toward the bishops involved no ill will 

^ Diceto, I, 339; Materials, I, 99. 
^ Ibid, 477 (Boshara) 

^ Materials, III, 478-479 (Boshara); Thomas Saga, I, 493. 
^ Ibid, 480-481 (Bosham); Saga, 497-501. 


toward him. This embassy proving fruitless, the Primate started 

to journey across the kingdom to pay a visit in person to the 

young King. However, he had gone no farther than London when he 

received a mandate from the King forbidding him to travel through 

the kingdom and ordering him to return to Canterbury, much to the 

exultation of his enemies especially the Brocks.^ 

The Archbishop, far from submitting peacefully to the King's 

order, again had recourse to the spiritual weapon. On Christmas 

day he preached a sermon in which he censured his enemies and 


ended by excommunicating Ranulf , Robert Brock and others. At the 

same time the bishops, who had gone to appeal to the King, were 

spending Christmas with him in Normandy and made their complaints 

against Becket. As usual imder such circumstances, Henry gave way 

to one of his ungovernable fits of anger and exclaimed: "Have I 

no one of my thankless and cowardly courtiers who will relieve me 


of the insults of one low born and troublesome priest." The 
King's words were interpreted to mean that he desired some one to 
rid him of the troublesome Archbishop. And accordingly four 
knights, Reginald Fitz Urse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Moreville, 
and Reginald Brito, entered into a conspiracy to murder Becket. 
They left the King's court and set out for England.^ 

Upon landing in England they held a council at Saltwood Oastlo, 

Materials, III, 481-82 (Boshara); Thomas Saga, 505; 
Paris, I, 362. 

^ Materials, III, 130 (Stephens), 484 (Bosham). 

3 Materials, II, 429 (Grim); 69 (Anon.). 

4 Ibid, III, 128 (Stephens); 487 (Bosham). 


whore they were ;joined by Brocks .-^ The next day, December 29, 

the conspirators witb a party of supporters rode to Canterbury. 

Leaving the company of followers to keep watch, the four knights 


with only a few attendants entered the cathedral grounds. They 
at once asked to see the Arcv^bishop. Upon being admitted into 
th© presence of the Prir-.ate, Fitz Urse, taking the lead, declared 
they had come in the name of the King to suminon him before his 
Majesty for his conduct in violating the recent peace, by suspending 
th© prelates who had crowned the young King; and by excommunicating 
th© King*s ministers and advisers.^ 

Becket strongly defended his conduct and spurning the advice 
of his followers, to submit to the cause of the King, he declared 
his intention of remaining at Canterbury, from whence, in fact, 
he had been forbidden by the King to leave. Being unable to 
frighten the Archbishop into submission, the conspirators then 
withdrew to arm themselves and make all safe for the prosecution 
of their work. They made their preparations and secured the gates, 
leaving them guarded in order that they might not be interrupted 
from without. With robes off and swords girded on, th© knights 
returning found the hall closed to them. But Robert of Brock, 
being acquainted with the premises, led them to an external stair- 
case leading up to a side door. Ascending this, they broke through 
the door, thus gaining an entrance.^ 

Becket had remained deaf to all entreaties to flee until the 

^ Materials, III, 130 (Stephens); Thomas Saga, I, 517. 

2 Materials, III, 132 seq. 

2 Materials, III, 132-137 (Stephens). 


Bound of breaking wood-work and flying footsteps reached his ears. 
Then only was he prevailed upon to enter the chiorch, where vespers 
had begun, by an unfrequented passage way. This, howevor, he 
refused to allow hia attendants to lock.-'- He did not wish the 
house of prayer to be turned into a fortress. 

Scarcely had he entered the church when the knights, armed 
with swords and battle axes, rushed in crying, "Where is that 
traitor Thomas Becket? Where is the Archbishop? Proudly repelling 
the taunt, as was becoming of him, he turned upon the armed 
knights. "Here am I, no traitor, but a priest of the Lord."^ 
Once more the conspirators made their demand that the Primate 
should withdraw his sentences, absolve the excommunicates, and 
restore the bishops to their offices. The Archbishop again refused. 
Whereupon he was promptly attacked by the knights, Fitz Urse 
striking the first blow. Edward Grim, one of Becket 's biographers, 
in attempting to ward off the blow was wounded on the arm.'^ This 
murder was one of the most brutal ever committed. The deed was 
accomplished, the murderers plundered the archiepiscopal palace, 
carried off everything of value and turned the whole household out 
of doors. ^ 

The news of the murder of the Archbishop spread rapidly. As 


was quite natural, it was first considered to havOAdone by the 

^ Materials, III, 132-137 (Stephens). 
^ Ibid, 140 (Stephens), 

^Materials, I, 134 (Cant.); 498 (Bosi-am) , 'Paris, 1, 363-4. 

Materials, III, 144 (Stephens), 
513 (Bosham). 



direct order of the King. Feeling against Henry ran high. He shut 
himself up for days and would see no one.^ As was also to be 
expected the Archbishop of Rotrou, who had been a friend of Becket , 
laid Henry's continental possessions under the interdict. The 
Norman clergy refused to obey and the result was that after the 
usual papal threats and diplomatic parleying, Henry was reconciled 
with the Church. 


As for Becket we can but admire his courage, constancy and 

independence. He was imbued with the papal ideas of his times 

and would gladly have reduced England to absolute submission to 

the Chiirch. His fight was for a spiritual cause and, as he no 

doubt supposed, with spiritual weapons. His training, however, 

had been, by his career of chancellor for Henry, entirely secular. 

Accordingly in this fight for a spiritual cause, his conduct was 

thoroughly secular and political. He was a politician and fought 

had it not been for his tragic death, 
as a politician, anc^/ysuch would have been the universal verdict. 

The ascendency of the Clergy in natters temporal was the end for 

which he strove. For the cause in which he fought and fell ho 

was a willing martyr but no true saint. 

His opportunities while in exile, for peace and a safe return 

to England, on reasonable terms were many. But his spirit was 

obstinate, his purpose imyielding, and the result was a long 

series of acts and counter-acts. His impassioned pleas and 

— o — 

1 Materials, VII, 438. 


unceasing activity kept centered upon his cause the attention not 
only of King Henry and the Pope, but also that of all the leading 
princes and prelates. He had not the patience of Alexander III 
and used not his sagacity, "but by unreasonable and unseasonable 
acts he aided in defeating his own cause and brought confusion 
into the Church and among the prelates of the realm. His idea of 
right was nothing short of victory for himself on every point, 
and the only means capable of bringinp^ to an end his disturbing 
activities and of conquering his obstinate spirit was his death, 
aad and tragic tho it was. 




Materials for the history of Thomas Becket, ed. J. C. Robertson. 
Rolls Series, No. 67, 7 vols. London, 1875-85. 

Vol. 1. Vita S. Thomae auctore Willelmo Monacho 

Vol. 2. Lives of Becket, by Benedict of Peterborough, 
John of Salisbiiry, Alan of Tewkesbury, and Edward Grim. 

Vol. 3. Lives of Becket, William Fitz Stephens and 
Herbert Bosham. 

Vol. 4. Two contemporary anonymous lives of Becket, and 

One of the anonymous lives was formerly ascribed to 
Roger of Pontigny. The Quadrilogus is a composite life 
drawn from earlier biogra^^hies ♦ 

Vol. 5-7. Letters written to or by Becket or relating 
to him. Among these are letters fro^^ Henry II, Alexander 
III, JohnJSalisbury, Gilbert Foliot, Arnulf of Lisieux, 
Herbert Bosham, and Peter of Blois. 

Diceto, Ralph of: Opera historica, ed. William Stubbs. Rolls 
Series. No. 68, 2 vole. London. 1876. 

Hoveden, Roger of; Chronica Ro^ri de Hovedene. ed. William 
Stubbs. Rolls Series. No. 51. 4 vols., London, 1868-71. , 

Peterborough, Benedict of: Gesta regis Henrici Secundi 
Benedict i abbatis; The Chronicle of the reigns of Henry II 
and Richard I, 1169-92. Known commonly under the name of 
Benedict of Peterborough, ed. William Stubbs, Rolls Series, 
No. 49, 2 vols. London, 1867. The most valuable chronicle of 
Henry II. Many documents are imbedded in the narrative. 
Benedict, Abbot of Peterborough, was not the author; the work 
was ascribed to him because one of the extant manuscripts 
was translated by his orders. 

Paris, Ma^hew: Historia Anglorum sive Historia Minor, ed, 
Frederick Madden. Rolls Series, No. 44, 3 vols. London, 

The Historia Minor, beginning in 1250 is an abridgment 
of Chronica Majora but it contains some added information. 

Thomas Saga Erkibyskups: A lifo of Becket in Icelandic, with 
English translation, ed. Eirikr Magnusson. Rolls Series, No. 


65, 2 vols. London, 1875-83. 

This v/as compiled mainly from Benedict's work and from a 
contemporary life of Backet by Robert of Gricklade. It 
contains some details not found in other extant biographies, 

Wendover, Roger of: Flores histori^*^ura. ed. H. G. Hewlett. 
Rolls Series, No. 84, 3vol., 1886-89. A general work 
relating to the continent as well as England. Wendover 's work, 
especially the part 1200-1225, is an original authority of 
great value. 


Adams, G. B.J The Political History of England from 1066-1216. 
(ed. by Hunt -Poole) New York, 1905. 

Davis, H. W. C: England under the Normans and Angevtnl^;, ^ 
New York, 1905. 

Green, Mrs. J. R.: Henry II. London, 1902, 

Milman, Henry Hart, History of Latin Christianity, Vol IV, 
New York, 1870. 

Norgate, Kate: England under Angevin; Kings. Vol. II, London 
and New York, 1887. 

Pearson, Chas. H. : Early and Middle Ages of England. 
London, 1861. 

Ramsay, J. H.: The Angevin^ Empire . London and New York, 1903. 

Stephens, W. R. W.: The English Church from the Norman 
Conquest to the Ascension of Edward I, New York, 1904. 

Thierry, Augustin: History of the Conquest of England by 
the Normans. Vol. II, London, 1847. 

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